‘Tis the season for overly dramatic arboreal scuffles.
In response to last year’s flak regarding renaming the 17-foot evergreen in the State House a “Holiday Tree,” Rhode Island’s Governor Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 has restored the Christmas tree title in a statement issued on Monday.
Rhode Island of all places is a peculiar site for a debate over public religious tokens, considering the Rhode Island Charter of 1663 was the first legal document in the world that completely decoupled church and state in favor of toleration.
However, unsurprisingly, much of the hubbub last year surrounding the name “Holiday Tree” came from none other than Papa Bear Bill O’Reilly. In classic Factor fashion, he sent Jesse Watters up to Providence to ask Brown students for their take on the issue. Watters aired a segment portraying Brown students as the only population in the state that preferred the holiday tree over a Christmas tree, saying that all people he spoke to in Providence preferred the traditional name “except if you go to Brown University.”
“Everyone I spoke to at Brown was pro-Holiday Tree,” said Watters. (Most of us would take that as a compliment, Jesse.) O’Reilly even suggested that Brown applicants are asked “Do you believe in Christmas?” and are barred admittance if their answer is “yes.”
Last year, Governor Chafee agreed to go on the O’Reilly Factor, where he could barely get a word in edgewise.
Although many would like to isolate the dissent towards the Holiday Tree with Fox News, the unrest was widespread. There was even a resolution passed in 2011 by members of the State House to restore the Christmas tree title.
While many believe Chafee is trying to make a radical statement with his holiday tree, ironically, the Holiday Tree wasn’t his idea. Former Republican RI Governor Donald Carcieri had kept the tradition of calling the infamous political houseplant a holiday tree. Chafee’s orders surrounding the foliage were simple:
“In 2011, my first year celebrating December in the State House I gave a simple six word instruction to the planners of the annual tree lighting: ‘Do what they did last year,’” he wrote in the statement.
Chafee was far from a pioneer in leaving Christmas out of the equation. In fact, as far back as 1995, Governor Lincoln Amond’s invitation to the annual tree lighting had no reference to Christmas and instead referred to the event as merely a “Tree Lighting.”
In an attempt to quell what some may deem unnecessary unrest surrounding this issue, Chafee wrote in the statement: “Because I do not think how we address the State House tree affects our lively experiment, this year’s invitation calls the tree a Christmas tree.” One can assume the “lively experiment” Chafee refers to is Rhode Island’s history as a beacon of religious tolerance throughout the years.
Although some may be disappointed that Chafee has given into the demands, others see his dismissal of the issue as merely an acknowledgement that there are more important things going on in Rhode Island than the nomenclature surrounding a bush.
It it also worth noting that Chafee announced in September that he will not be running for re-election. Along with wanting to spend the rest of his time in office focusing on the issues “Rhode Islanders want him to focus on,” Chafee said that he has come across some “irrational negativity in his time as governor.” He referred to the controversy sprouting from the Holiday Tree as a source of negativity.
So, in this one time of year where an evergreen tree edges out marijuana as the most controversial plant in the country, let us be thankful that Jesse Watters and his camera crew haven’t showed up yet again. We have too many finals on our hands to be camera-ready.
Also, to give credit where credit is due: thank you Governor Chafee for using the word “brouhaha” in an official government statement.
For more information, check out this entire section of HuffPost that’s devoted to articles that touch on to this pressing, relevant and extremely important issue.
Or just turn on the TV.
The media response from Holiday Trees past: